Zen Mischief

Science Cartoon
Richard Feynman
Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei
Nicolas Copernicus
Nicolas Copernicus

Science

As those of you who've read my resumé will know by now, I was originally trained as a chemist and went on to do research in chemical spectroscopy (actually photochemistry and photophysics) on the boundaries between chemistry and physics.

It was my post-graduate, rather than undergraduate, years which gave me much of my knowledge of nearly all the branches of the natural sciences. In consequence I retain an interest in science, and especially in Quantum Physics and the current theories of Life, the Universe and Everything (to quote Douglas Adams).

A while ago I realised how much I was missing science, not having been at all active scientifically for some years. Although I don't now have the time, facilities or skill to do research, I needed to at least know what was going on in the scientific world. So I have started reading again the weekly magazine New Scientist as well as the monthly Scientific American. While I don't read every issue of either magazine, nor do I read them from cover to cover, they give me much brain food and, together with various scientific weblogs, keep me abreast of the most significant developments.

Science and Engineering are two quite distinct disciplines which are often misunderstood and misrepresented. I heard an interesting contrast between the two disciplines from Eric Drexler (of nanotechnology fame):

Science: Studying Nature and understanding what already exists.
Engineering: Understanding what already exists and making new things.

And when I think about it, I reckon he's right!

The pictures on the right show just four of the greatest scientists who have ever lived. It is hard to say who is the greatest ever; maybe it should ne Newton, not just for his theory of gravity but also for the calculus. As a teacher and thinker who for me stands head and shoulders above all in modern times I would have to pick the late Richard Feynman: brilliant physicist, a great teacher, a real eccentric and, of course, hero of the Challenger Inquiry. If I could have just 10% of Feynman's vision, I would be happy.

 

A Theory of Mathematics

I have a theory about the structure of mathematics which goes something like this:

  • Arithmetic is to Mathematics what the alphabet is to Shakespeare (or any other great literature).
  • Geometry is to Engineering what Arithmetic is to Mathematics.
  • Mathematics is merely a set of different Algebras, where each Algebra obeys a different set of rules.

 


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